Yes, they really did all of these.

“The 10 Most Insane Medical Practices in History.”

Reading that reminded me of one of the unexpectedly difficult things about writing Ashes: dealing with Jack as a doctor. The character is an intelligent, inquisitive man absolutely dedicated to practicing the best medicine he possibly can — but let’s face it, the guy lives in the second half of the seventeenth century. His idea of cutting-edge medical science is using Harvey’s discovery of the circulation of the blood to improve bloodletting techniques.

Jack is probably my favorite character in the whole book, but I wouldn’t let him within a hundred feet of me if I were sick. And yet I had to write lines describing how he’s trying to save somebody’s life by way of techniques that probably made things worse.

Note to time-travellers: if you ever get thrown back into European history prior to, say, the twentieth century, you’re better off refusing a physician entirely than letting one of them treat you. The body has this lovely thing called the immune system, and it stands a better chance of saving your life than any of them do.

0 Responses to “Yes, they really did all of these.”

  1. mindstalk

    I wonder if the vets were any better. Of course, there’s treating illnesses and there’s treating broken bones.

    Have you seen ? Which gave a new reason to harsh on the Church: banning cadaver dissection and thus knowledge about the human body.

    • ckd

      I wonder if the vets were any better.

      See the appearance of “Doughnut Jimmy” in Terry Pratchett’s Feet of Clay.

    • Marie Brennan

      It’s depressing to wonder how much more quickly Europe might have advanced past Galenic theory had the Church not inhibited research.

  2. novalis

    They still give you vicodin to stop coughing. I had a cough that went on for like three weeks in a vicious cycle: the coughing irritated my throat, which made me cough more… So I went to the doctor, and he gave me some vicodin, and within two days I was cured. It was amazing.

  3. kendokamel

    Yep, I agree wholeheartedly! (;

    When I worked at the historical society (where the year was always 1848), we shocked the visitors quite often when describing some of the “ordinary” remedies and medical procedures.

  4. Marie Brennan

    Trepannation is an entirely valid method of dealing with certain problems, like a swelling in the brain. (That section of the link was kind of badly written anyway, with its suggestion that trepannation somehow wiped out the Incas and the Maya — which I imagine would be news to all the Maya still living in Mexico and Guatemala today . . . .)

  5. lady_puck9999

    That was excellent! I am writing a series of stories set in Victorian England, and I am now obligated to include “Female Hysteria” and its cure.


    • Marie Brennan

      Oh, it’s even better if you know the origin of the term. “Hysteria” comes from the same root word as “hysterectomy,” you see — because some doctors believed it was caused by your uterus wandering aimlessly around inside your body, upsetting the delicate balance of your feminine disposition.

      Wandering. Uterus.

  6. Marie Brennan

    Midwives weren’t all that great, though, at least not in England; Liza Picard has some gruesome descriptions of how they would reach up inside the birth canal with their (unwashed) hands and cut open the placenta if it hadn’t ruptured yet, or forcibly pull out the afterbirth, in order to get the job done with and move onto their next client.

    But at least midwives stuck to birthing assistance, and didn’t bleed or cup the mothers, or feed them toxic “medicines.”

  7. faerie_writer

    Oh dear, the women’s hysteria one had me in hysterics! LOL! 😉

  8. therinth

    I’ve made a solemn vow to never time travel to a period before contact lenses or tampons.

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